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Jocelyn Lee
Friday, Aug 15, 2014

Showbiz

Behind the comedy, tears and insecurity

The New Paper | Jocelyn Lee | Friday, Aug 15, 2014

Local actress-turned-director Michelle Chong

BEHIND the wisecracks and cheers, there can often be depression and tears.

News of Oscar-winning actor and comedian Robin Williams' apparent suicide yesterday shocked the world, drawing tributes from fellow actors and fans.

The much-loved 63-year-old star had been battling with depression before his death, and had previously struggled with alcohol and drugs.

What is it like to live a public life so brightly while hiding a dark side?

Home-grown talent Michelle Chong knows.

The versatile actress, who has won many fans with her comedic impressions on local TV show The Noose, has had her own battles with depression and suicidal thoughts.

Not everything about Chong is as chirpy and quirky as her portrayal of Sarong Party Girl Barbarella, which has since become a household name.

The 37-year-old had been diagnosed with clinical depression since she was 17.

And the more depressed she gets, the more she buries herself in work.

She occupies herself with hosting gigs, film-making, managing her artist agency Left Profile and more.

But Chong said the success from her multiple projects does not help her in coping with her feelings.

EXPECTATIONS

"People expect me to be bubbly, funny and chirpy all the time; it's like I am not allowed to have a bad day.

"When the negative thoughts hit you, there is nothing much you can do."

For Chong, the few years before the success of her directorial debut Already Famous in 2011 were the toughest.

She would burst into tears uncontrollably during media interviews and found little meaning in life.

"It was a very low point in my life. I dreaded going to work the minute I woke up. I just wanted to sleep all the time. There was very little joy in everything. I felt that even if a car knocked me down at that moment, I would be fine with it."

Chong sought help from professionals and took anti-depressants, a move which she said "helped improve the problem to a small extent".

She recognises that the problem will "never go away" but she has since found ways to cope with it.

"I felt like there was a void within me when I was in front of the camera.

"I realised much later that I enjoy the creative process a lot, and I was not getting it from the end of the production process as an actress. I wanted to have a creative outlet.

"Sometimes, people need to take a step back and see that what they are good at is not always what makes them happy. They have to take the risk and give up doing what they excel in if it is making them depressed. It involves a lot of sacrifices.

"I did that by choosing to go behind the scenes and staying out of the public eye, slowly but surely."

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